california governor kevin paffrath
Los Angelos Times
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Kevin Paffrath joined our zoom interview sitting in the same studio where he greets almost 2 million YouTube subscribers daily. With an exuberant “hey!”, he immediately launched into conversation about his excitement for the interview. This 29-year-old YouTuber, real estate investor and self-described centrist Democrat is campaigning to be in charge of the state of California as its next governor – and it honestly just might happen.

How is that possible? Well, it all goes back to a petition drive and a dinner at a fancy French restaurant.

California’s recall election process leaves the state’s future in the air

California is nothing if not unique in every aspect, including politics. The state allows for its citizens to recall elected officials, including the Governor, through a petition and election process. Citizens who wish to recall an elected official must state their intent and gather a number of signatures equal to at least 12% of the votes cast in that official’s previous election within a certain amount of time. If the petition drive is successful, then it triggers an official recall election. The election take places within 60-80 days of signatures being submitted. When voters go to the ballot in the recall election, they have two questions to vote on:

Question 1: Should the current person in office be recalled (removed)?

Question 2: Who should replace them?

If a majority of voters choose “YES” on question one, then the current governor will be removed. Then, whichever replacement candidate receives the most votes under question two becomes the next California governor.

Now comes the issue of the fancy French dinner.

Republicans in California, who haven’t won a statewide election in over a decade, are less than fans of the current governor, Gavin Newsom. Newsom became a lightning rod for implementing the strictest COVID regulations in the nation last fall and then ignored them himself. In November, constituents saw Newsom hosting a maskless, indoor dinner at a posh Napa Valley restaurant. With businesses closed and residents forced inside following CDC guidance, images of Newsom flaunting those regulations with lobbyists didn’t sit well.

The firestorm the photographs set off is still smoldering. Republicans have seized the opportunity to push for a recall election. A few months and 1.7 million petition signatures later, their election date was set.

And so now, the California Governor’s mansion is, quite literally, up for grabs.

Enter Kevin Paffrath.

california governor kevin paffrath
Los Angelos Times
The YouTuber with big ideas who wants to run California

Hours before his interview with The Black Wall Street Times, Paffrath had offered $50,000 to a local outlet to allow him on the debate stage.  While his campaign’s numbers were surging, he’d missed the cutoff for the debate.

“I’ll be on the debate stage next week,” he quipped. “They won’t let me on.”

For Paffrath, the decision to run, he says, is deeply personal. He mentioned his two young children, saying that he doesn’t want for them to one day look back and wonder why their family didn’t “leave California like everyone else.”

Kevin Paffrath’s ideas are unquestionably audacious. Among them:

  • Ensuring no one is living houseless on the streets of California within his first 60 days.
  • Restructuring and reimagining public education through what he calls “future schools”.
  • Solving the water crisis facing California and
  • Reinvigorating growth and development across The Golden State

To him, a self-proclaimed “practical” and “in-the-middle” Democrat, the solutions are simple: invest in people and lower taxes.

Investing in social services to solve social issues

“Future schools”, as Paffrath describes them, are foremost in his plan for investment. Rather than continuing K-12 public education as is, he would invest in building schools that teach children skills and trades for an increasingly tech-heavy economy. These schools would also pay adult learners $2,000 a month to engage in and complete career training courses.

On his website, the candidate notes that “$2,000 a month over two years sounds like a lot.” But, he says, it’s nothing compared to the “$240,000 we spend baby-sitting prison inmates over two years.”

“Everything in California is interconnected,” Paffrath said. “Crime, homelessness, schooling, mental health, guns – all this stuff is interconnected so we need a massive solution that touches on everything.”

Essentially, he sees this as the moment to spend big on the front end in order to see returns in the future.

He applies similar logic to solving issues of houselessness. Front and center on Paffrath’s website is the declaration that no one will be living on the street within 60 days of him taking office.

Paffrath says he will use his executive powers on day one to begin constructing “80 new Emergency facilities capable of housing 160,000 homeless”. The facilities will include food, hygiene and shelter while giving individuals access to treatment and support services. He says sleeping on the streets of California will not be an option for anyone after the first 60 days.

Paffrath did not elaborate on how long individuals can stay or what happens if someone refuses to take advantage of a shelter.

The belief is that these efforts, coupled with rapid expansion of affordable housing across the state, will alleviate the biggest issues facing Californians.

Oh, and let’s not forget, he will also eliminate the state income tax for anyone making under $250,000 a year.

Kevin Paffrath has bold ideas, but will he actually be able to implement them?

It all sounds profoundly exciting.

Ending the housing crisis, reimagining public education, massive tax breaks for the middle class and more. Big ideas are the backbone of American democracy and it almost feels wrong to confine them. But, alas, these plans did beg the question: how are you going to pay for this?

California has a more than $75 Billion surplus, even in a global pandemic. This means Paffrath can be creative in ways that candidates in a lot of other states cannot. And yet, his plan calls for massive investments alongside massive tax reductions. By ending state income taxes for everyone making $250K or less, Paffrath would cut the state off from 34% of it’s annual income tax revenue stream.

When asked about this, he spoke about meeting the budget gap by ending high speed rail development, fast-tracking permits, legalizing gambling, implementing toll roads and more. Kevin Paffrath is also banking on long-term savings by ultimately reducing the costs of the state’s carceral and welfare programs.

In addition to costs, however, there is simply the question of feasibility in some of his plans. For instance, to alleviate the state’s water crisis, Paffrath wants to build a fourteen-foot-wide, thousands-of-miles-long pipeline to transport water from the Mississippi River to the Colorado River. It’s an intriguing idea, but it also carries real environmental and cultural downfalls. When asked about potential unintended consequences, including ecological shifts along the river’s shoreline and impacts to Black and brown farmers in the Delta, Paffrath deflected.

“It’s not like we’re going to drain the Mississippi, right. That’s important to know.”

“Yeah, look,” he continued, “that all needs to be negotiated into what we’re paying for, so.”

Is Kevin Paffrath ready to do the hard work of addressing systemic racism as California’s Governor?

Paffrath was asked during the interview about a number of topics, including issues of racial justice and equity.

He acknowledged a need to actively undo the effects of racist practices like redlining, but also said he doesn’t have a position on reparations.

“I’d be open to that in negotiations,” he said regarding reparations for Black Americans stymied. “I personally don’t have an answer one way or the other on my personal belief on it. I’m focused on making sure everybody has an equal opportunity to build wealth.”

Paffrath was clear that he doesn’t believe in “defunding the police”, but did have a host of ways he believes community policing could improve.

He said that his administration would focus on training police to “integrate with communities” to understand what they need.

“What do the communities want, and then give them what they feel they need from their police departments.”

Kevin Paffrath did not provide a clear example, however, when asked how he had intentionally engaged community members in developing the various policy ideas for his campaign.

“Nothing scares me”

If he wins the recall election in three weeks, he will become the leader of the world’s fifth largest economy. He will inherit a racial justice crisis, an economic crisis, an environmental crisis, rising crime rates and, of course, a raging global pandemic. At 29 years-old, Paffrath would become the youngest governor in California’s history.

Perhaps this is why his answer to the final question proves the most interesting:

“What scares you and what excites you about the prospect of winning this election?”

“Well, nothing scares me about it,” he shot back immediately. “If Gavin Newsom can fail this job so miserably, I know I would do a much better job. I’m not scared about it at all.”

For Paffrath, the most exciting prospect about this race is “growing California” and overtaking Germany as the world’s fourth largest economy.

Paffrath’s ideas are bold and innovative, no doubt. As a candidate, he brings a charisma that even the incumbent California governor can often lack. However, the moment he will be required to meet if elected is undeniably serious. Anyone with an understanding of what’s at stake is likely to have a healthy dose of fear at the prospect of it all.

Combatting systemic racism, solving climate change and eradicating economic inequality require bold vision, clear conviction, deep community connection and unshakeable values.

California’s choice

Kevin Paffrath has never held public office posits himself as a centrist outsider – in a deeply blue and divided state. He speaks with intent on combatting issues of racial inequity, but still utilizes terms like “illegal” to describe undocumented immigrants. He has bold, progressive plans to shape California’s future, but admittedly hasn’t thought through all of their unintended consequences.

And yet, for Californians seeking a change in leadership, the only candidate beating Paffrath in the polls is Larry Elder. The Trumpian radio show host who belittles women, denies climate change and treats COVID as a joke has become a lightning rod whom Gavin Newsom hopes will drive up Democratic turnout.

And yet, polls remain neck and neck on the first question of whether or not to remove Newsom from Office. With 46 replacement candidates on the ballot, just 25% of the “replacement” vote could be enough to make someone governor.

Perhaps Kevin Paffrath has found the precise moment to be the “something new” for Californians to latch on to.

Perhaps, just perhaps, America’s largest state will turn an internet personality into its next Governor on September 14th.

Anything is possible. Just ask Arnold Schwartzenegger.

Nate Morris moved to the Tulsa area in 2012 and has committed himself to helping build a more equitable and just future for everyone who calls the city home. As a teacher, advocate, community organizer...

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